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Building a New Vegetable Garden

If you watch YouTube videos or read website articles about building vegetable gardens, you’ll find stores like Home Depot trying to sell raised bed kits, topsoil etc.. You’ll end up spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on supplies and not have a single vegetable to show for it. Besides the challenge of gardening is learning to improve your soil and build a productive garden not to purchase garden supplies from a local store. If you understand how soil works you will not need to buy anything. You simply need to work patiently.

In the photos on this page you can see that I am building a new garden. You’ll see that I have no fancy raised bed supplies or bags of topsoil. All that I have are a few t-posts, string and a shovel.

You can see that I’ve laid out garden beds that are 4′ wide with 2′ between each bed. I do not need great space for walkways because I will not be using any power tools or tillers, just a hoe during the garden season.

To build a garden bed, I simply dig along the string and turn the soil over into the bed creating a path between the beds.

After I’m finished digging, I will use my hoe to break up the soil and smooth out the bed to prepare for planting, as you see below:

Nothing but a shovel and a hoe was used to build and prepare this bed, and I’ll use nothing but a hoe for the rest of the season to maintain it.

Now, if you’re building a new garden the soil will likely not be ideal. Developing and improving the soil over time is the main goal of your work as a gardener. Nevertheless the soil is likely sufficient to grow vegetables if cared for. As you work through the garden season make notes of strengths and weaknesses of your garden that you can amend before the next planting season. You will find spots in your garden that do not drain well, or that do not have enough organic matter, or that only have a few inches of fertile soil. If you take pictures and make notes of these things you can improve your garden soil before the next planting. Each planting and growing season will reveal weaknesses in your garden that can be improved in the subsequent planting season.

Soil amendment for your garden should come only from your compost pile. Throughout the year, you should be composting fallen leaves, weeds removed from the garden, grass cuttings, animal manures and kitchen scraps. These will provide you with a constant source of rich organic material to add to your garden soil to improve with each planting season. Allowing different organic materials to mix and decompose in a compost pile also prevents any specific substance from affecting your soil in a way that’s harmful to plants. Before each planting season simply spread an inch or so of compost in your garden beds and hold the compost in mixing it with your existing soil to continually improve your garden soil through the years.

Our compost pile out back.

In all of the work described above no supplies need to be purchased. If you work intelligently and patiently you can build beautiful, productive gardens without buying any supplies.

Remember that the goal in gardening is not to get vegetables immediately. If you wanted to do that, you could simply buy them at the supermarket. The goal of gardening is to build a fertile garden that is able to produce fruits and vegetables for years and years to come. You cannot build such a garden with supplies from the hardware store.

You may ask does this not require a great deal of labor and time? Yes it does, but that time can serve provide many benefits that are worth having. First, I gain a great deal of physical exercise by this work and don’t need to worry about going to the gym or running or doing other forms of artificial exercise to keep myself in shape. Second, while I’m working in the garden I use the time to listen to audio books. While digging this bed, I listened to commentaries of the Church fathers on the first chapters of the gospel of St. Matthew. How can you beat that?

William C. Michael